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Hilltoppers, Cyclones face 'ace tests' in sectional baseball

Douglas Fritz • May 17, 2018 at 8:06 PM

Pitching matchups aren’t everything in high school baseball, but they can be a big part of the equation.

Science Hill and Elizabethton could have their hands full in sectional baseball matchups, where a berth in the state tournament at next week’s Spring Fling in Murfreesboro is on the line.

The Hilltoppers will play host to Knox Karns — and ace pitcher Trevor Adams — on Saturday at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. The Class AAA game was pushed back a day because of Karns’ graduation.

In Class AA, Elizabethton will play host to Corryton Gibbs — a team that boasts one of the best pitchers in the state, statistically at least, in Cameron Hill. That game will be played Friday at ETSU’s Thomas Stadium at 7 p.m.

Also in the mix is University High, which travels to take on Lookout Valley in Class A.

In softball, Class AA Unicoi County will play host to Kingston on Saturday. Elizabethton visits Gibbs on Friday.

Also on Saturday, Class A Unaka will play either Tellico Plains or Sale Creek. The Lady Rangers and North Greene were rained out of their Region 1-A final for the second straight night. They will try again Friday at 2 p.m.

Here’s a closer look at the sectional contests:

BASEBALL

Knox Karns (30-8) at Science Hill (34-7)

Because of Maryville Heritage’s graduation Monday, the Beavers didn’t get to play their region semifinal game until Tuesday. Adams threw 102 pitches in the 9-1 win.

Karns’ graduation is Friday, so the sectional game was pushed to 1 p.m. on Saturday — giving Adams the extra day’s rest needed to be eligible to pitch against Science Hill.

“It is what it is,” said Hilltoppers’ head coach Ryan Edwards. “I told the kids you can’t control the weather and you can’t control graduation. What you can control is playing your best game.”

Adams (8-1) is the real deal, especially of late. In his last seven starts, he has racked up 61 strikeouts in 35 innings and has an ERA of 0.60.

Science Hill has a pretty good pitcher, too, in Brandon Feathers. The right-hander has collected 94 strikeouts in 63 innings with an ERA of 1.33. Feathers (8-1) hasn’t allowed an earned run in five of his last six starts.

“I feel good knowing I’ve got Brandon Feathers on the mound,” said Edwards. “He has kept us in every game he’s pitched in. The one start he lost was opening night at Mt. Juliet (a 2-0 final) when they had their best guy going.”

Neither Adams nor Feathers pitched in Karns’ 5-3 win over the Hilltoppers back on April 21, but outfielder Ryder Green had two hits and scored twice.

“You have to deal with him in the No. 2 hole,” said Edwards. “He’s potentially the best player in the state. But the thing we have to do is focus on what we do well.”

Gibbs (28-12) at Elizabethton (25-8)

The Cyclones don’t get a home-field bargain with Gibbs’ loss to Pigeon Forge in the Region 2-AA final.

Hill has been incredible on the mound, racking up 95 strikeouts in 48 innings and surrendering just six earned runs for an ERA of 0.88. He had a 17-strikeout mow down of Pigeon Forge, in six innings of work, on April 10.

Cyclones’ head coach Ryan Presnell said his team needs to make sure it stays grounded.

“You have to make sure and not try to be someone you’re not,” said Presnell. “We have to play to our strengths and not let the other team dictate who we are. It will be tough for sure, but our kids appreciate the challenge and know this is part of playing baseball this time of year.”

The Cyclones figure to counter Hill with Tre Shoun, who has earned three postseason wins while allowing just 11 hits and four runs in 18 innings with 12 strikeouts.

Gibbs has been to the state tournament eight times, most recently in 2011. The Eagles won the Class AA state title in 2010. Elizabethton seeks its third state berth and first since 2013.

University High (22-11) at Lookout Valley (26-8)

The Yellow Jackets have a solid baseball tradition, seeking their eighth state tournament appearance but their first in a decade. They won state titles in 1980 and 1977.

This year they’ve won 16 of their last 18 games, averaging 9.4 runs per game in those victories.

Riley Phillips figures to get the call on the mound for Lookout Valley. He was touched for nine hits and six runs, two earned, in the region semifinal win over Coalfield.

UH will likely counter with Jack Bembry, who had five strikeouts in three innings of work Monday against Jellico. He threw only 33 pitches.

SOFTBALL

Kingston (24-6) at Unicoi County (38-9)

The Lady Blue Devils not only earned home-field advantage, they avoided perennial state-title threat Gibbs.

But they still have to take care of business. Kingston lost to Gibbs in the season opener before ripping off 14 straight wins. The Yellow Jackets lost twice to Division II power The King’s Academy, and a couple of times to Alcoa before beating the Tornadoes twice in the district finals. The other loss was to Gibbs in the Region 2-AA championship.

Kingston has reached the state three times in school history with the two most recent appearances coming at Unicoi County’s expense in the sectional in 2000 and 2001. The Lady Blue Devils beat Kingston in 2002 en route to their first state championship.

Unicoi is seeking its 12th state berth, but the Lady Blue Devils haven’t been there since 2013.

Elizabethton (25-14) at Gibbs (30-7)

It’s going to take an upset for the Lady Cyclones to earn back-to-back state tournament appearances. Gibbs seeks its 32nd state berth, having won 10 championships and finishing second three times. The Lady Eagles are defending state champions, having won the Class AAA title last year before sliding back down to Class AA.

Elizabethton made this same trip to Corryton back in 2010. The Lady Cyclones were tied 1-1 in the latter stages of the game before falling by a score of 6-1.

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